The Birds were punished by an inspired ~Pollen~ today, whose incredible first-half gusto laid the foundation for a 4-1 home thumping. This was compounded by a terrible foot injury to form player Bernie Egan
very early on, which severely shook Grilled's midfield balance.
~Pollen~ were eager to get going after being entirely shut out by Ramseille Volliard FC last Sunday, even if the portents didn't look good against Grilled. They hadn't managed a win against the Birds in their two previous meetings, five seasons back in Division Three, and if the rest of their team had aged out somewhat since then, their midfield was probably about the best it had ever been. Former Argentine youth international Gerardo Albertario had grown to be its main man along with evergreen Saudi Ramy Mansoor Al-Rashdy, with Wicher Burghgraaff and José Victor Velázquez falling back to defensive roles. Italian left winger Notarnicola returned from his knock as expected, and while 38 year-old skipper Marius Trakimas has long been regarded as past his prime physically, his game intelligence and leadership remain impeccable.
Logically speaking, it could have been a disaster for ~Pollen~ were Grilled's forwards able to isolate their defenders, which however hardly happened throughout; their battle-tested midfield knew exactly when to provide cover and beef up weak spots, while also providing an out once they regained the ball. All this led to a mostly self-inflicted foot injury by Bernie Egan
, who had his right leg unwisely planted as he tried to challenge Reyes Aguilar from a bad position. Egan ended up not only absorbing hundreds of pounds of weight on his ankle, but also giving away the foul.
Chu Xin Lee
entered for Egan, but there was a reason why he hadn't started, and it showed. Grilled began to lose the battle in the middle as ~Pollen~ began creating open men with grim efficiency, and Notarnicola should have scored when he was sent clear through by Krzysztof Królasik's flick in the 24th minute. Massoud Dob
bailed his team out with a courageous spring to feet, but Giuseppe Viazzo immediately put the ball back in, and Albert Bollinger made sure with a point-blank chest-in.
Bollinger was electrified, and doubled his tally just two minutes later, as he breezed past a Bhavya Panigrahi
who had Trakimas occupying the back of his mind. ~Pollen~ were fully in the ascendacy by now, and Grilled seldom fared well in such circumstances, when they were under heavy pressures; Bollinger was absolutely bullying their left side with Heng Dong Chu
an insipid marker at the best of times, and he swung in an outswinging cross in the 32nd minute meant for Ramy Mansoor Al-Rashdy, who got a yard on Gilbert Webb
to overwhelm on the header for 3-0.
was on his feet trying to impose some discipline in the Birds, but it was rather too late for that, with ~Pollen~ only too eager to get on with the game. Bollinger kept on advancing like something out of a bad dream, and worse, knew when to abrogate responsibility to José Victor Velázquez too. Thus Velázquez broke in behind in the 35th, and slid it across to Królasik, who likewise slid it beyond Massoud Dob
, all like clockwork.
That was the worst half that Grilled had suffered for some seasons, including last year in the S-League, because they had tended to at least have shown a certain attacking ambition then. Still, the match here might have been lost, but Noubaryan wanted to prevent it getting ugly, and to that end swapped the ineffective Vikram Mudaliar
with Islom Davlatov
for the second half, with Davlatov told to contest like a midfielder.
This arguably turned the flow right around, as Davlatov attached himself to Albertario, leaving Grilled to double up on Bollinger. It was hardly clean or easy, but the Birds started to put the squeeze on ~Pollen~, and compress them in their own half. That said, the hosts were hardly too unwilling, given their considerable lead and how this denied the Birds of extra space.
Heng Dong Chu
suggested that it wasn't totally a lost cause, as he sped up on the left side in the 55th minute, in tandem with Bilal Mohammad Harun
finding an open route in the centre. Heng had always looked far more impressive going forward than back, and his close-up interchange with Bilal was a thing of beauty, that confused ~Pollen~'s players for a critical second or two. This was enough for Heng to ascertain the range, and he whipped a superb effort diagonally and high past Koldo Lemonauria in the opposition goal.
Grilled had a good spell about then, as they started to find small holes in the slowing ~Pollen~ team. It hardly happened commonly enough for a comeback to be one the cards, but they were present nonetheless, and Heng began to show his quality with a magnificent pass, weighted just right for Moey Xin Seng
, in the 69th minute. Moey would probably have done better to have just turned and shot, but he brought it down for a closer look, which gave Burghgraaff enough time to scurry in the way for a block.
No further openings were forthcoming for the Birds as ~Pollen~ hunkered down, and Yuta Nakakita
's introduction for the slightly-disappointing Panigrahi later on didn't change that. Instead, it was the hosts who nearly increased the goal difference in injury time, with Reyes Aguilar's bullet header from a corner only barely palmed aside by Dob, and the second-chance putback then crudely hacked into touch by Gilbert Webb